In Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2012 movie, “The Dictator,” we see the title character hosting and competing in his own version of the Olympics. He starts running before firing the starting pistol. The other runners, obviously real athletes, briefly attempt to overtake him until he turns the pistol on his competition. After two are wounded, the others get the message and back off long enough to allow him to continue “winning.” When he loses his breath, cronies holding the finish line tape move towards him so he can complete the race and win a medal without taking another step.
Dictators all have elections. But the dictators control the media so the public only hears the approved messages. For an election to qualify as “free and fair,” international criteria require, “Every candidate for election and every political party shall have an equal opportunity of access to the media, particularly the mass communications media, in order to put forward their political views.”
In a country that’s not free, political opponents can try their hardest but they better not get too close or the dictator will find excuses to sic his state security apparatus on the opponent or, at the very least, censor the opponent to oblivion. Before Cohen became woke and yet another instrument of the Left, he was funny. The race scene in particular made a brilliant allegory for how elections are run in dictatorships. It also highlights a peculiarity of dictators who crave the legitimacy of the appearance of a fair contest but cannot bear to risk losing.
Not so long ago the media argued with a straight face that it needed to censor to protect the public from the kind of “misinformation” they believe tilted the 2016 election. We’ve heard the line repeated so often that it’s easy to forget what the Wikileaks releases revealed. We were told not to believe the evidence because it came from a Russian hacking operation.
It’s never been proven to my satisfaction that the Russians were behind the two hack and release bombshells that influenced the 2016 election. But setting that aside, it’s important to remember what those releases showed. Because the parallels to 2020 are striking.
The leaks showed disgraceful collusion between the Clinton campaign and legacy media “journalists.” Reporters would suck up to the Clinton campaign by revealing debate questions to Clinton in advance, showing the campaign advance copies of news articles with invitations to edit objectionable material and sharing opposition research to maximize the advantages for the Clinton campaign.
Second, the leaks showed that the Clintons used their foundation to collect payments from people and corporations in need of official action from the secretary of state’s office. Clinton has never provided a satisfying explanation for what appeared to be a massive bribery scheme. Both of those facts should have, and probably did, tilt the election against Clinton. In a normal world, that would be the right result. The Clinton example should serve as a cautionary tale. Ideally, politicians should refuse payoffs to prevent such scandals.
Four years later, nearly everything I just described happened again. First, the Democrats nominated another candidate whose family ran a cash-for-influence operation. Like Clinton, the scale of the Biden operation ran into the tens of millions. Clinton’s was perhaps larger and more organized but what difference, at this point, does that make?
In 2016, the FBI came to the rescue to join in the chorus of huffing and puffing about how the information came to light. Both in 2016 and 2020, the intelligence community prompted the media to accuse the Russians of distributing the information. Clinton never denied the authenticity of the emails preferring instead to use her henchmen to intimidate those journalists dumb enough to focus on the underlying revelations in the emails. “You’re doing the bidding of Putin!” One heard frequently with the icy implication that asking too many questions amounted to treason. At one point, CNN suggested viewers might be committing a crime just by reading or possessing the Wikileaks emails.
Of course, in 2020, the FBI took an even more active role to stop evidence of their candidate’s corruption from reaching the voters. Somehow, the FBI knew in advance that journalists were about to reveal the email evidence of the Biden family’s cash-for-influence operation. We haven’t yet heard confirmation that the bureau learned this from spying on journalists. But I won’t be surprised if that comes to light. This time, the FBI approached Facebook and other social media giants to encourage them to be prepared to censor an October surprise regarding Biden. This time, the FBI held weekly meetings with social media to monitor and encourage censorship. When the FBI “encourages” anyone to do anything, is not doing it really an option?
The Twitter files seem to confirm government interference in the 2020 election. The FBI had no legitimate basis for suggesting the information came from a Russian operation. And even if it had, the FBI shouldn’t be intercepting accurate information that bears on the candidate’s suitability for office.
In 2016, the media might have been embarrassed for participating in a cover-up to influence the outcome of an election. There were still traces of professionalism left in the legacy media. While they might have succumbed to the temptation to coordinate with a political campaign or the government to influence an election, in 2016 they would have known it was wrong.
Depressingly, our public education system seems to have stamped out a reverence for the First Amendment and its critical role in preserving election integrity. It doesn’t appear that the vast majority of the public or even current journalists see any problem at all with this coordination and censorship. They all gleefully cheer as they move the goalposts farther away from Trump and closer to Biden. Trump’s message is smothered, distorted, fact checked, or just outright censored. Unless something changes, this is how elections will be run from now on.
During the recent Georgia runoff, every day I would receive a half-dozen fundraising emails championing the Democratic candidate. Republican pleas for campaign funds went straight to my spam box. I don’t believe it’s an accident.
Perhaps even more interesting is why Joe Biden would be ushered through the primary process like a VIP skipping the line at an exclusive club. Think back to the first impeachment proceedings against Trump. What was it all about? Trump was asking questions about why a Ukrainian energy giant was paying Joe Biden’s son a truckload of money. So? Well, Biden, the media argued, would be the likely nominee in opposition to Trump. Trump’s actions, they insisted, amounted to Trump using his official position to kneecap an opponent.
This was all before Biden stood for a single debate and before a single primary vote was cast! And sure enough, the primary process with a highly crowded field nevertheless produced a nomination for Joe Biden. It’s like they could see the future. Never mind that Biden’s Justice Department is now doing to Trump exactly what Democrats impeached Trump for in 2020.
So the lesson from 2016 should have been to nominate a candidate without corruption problems. If our democracy were working as intended, the Democrats would have allowed the primary process to produce a durable candidate with little corruption in his or her past. It all happened so quickly it’s easy to miss the artful craft. Bernie Sanders’ rival Elizabeth Warren stayed in to split the vote. Biden’s rivals dropped out. And in spite of poor showing in the early primaries, Biden sailed through Super Tuesday.
It should also be said that just because Trump is the victim of some dirty pool doesn’t mean he’s blameless. His fixation with rigged voting machines and fraudulent ballots have drawn attention from the censorship and social media manipulation that made the election so unfair. You don’t have to like Trump to want a fair process.
Like the sequence with Cohen’s dictator character, just when the Hunter Biden laptop story starts to gain traction: BANG! Down it goes. Biden easily coasts to victory on a playing field rigged to his benefit. For powerful forces behind the scenes, there are huge advantages, especially for the FBI, to have a president with law enforcement vulnerabilities. Do you think FBI Director Christopher Wray will be fired for using the bureau’s luxury jet to go on vacation? Fat chance! One phone call and he can have the president’s son in jail. The leverage is incalculable. One thing 2016 and 2020 have taught us, the FBI likes its presidents the way FDR liked his martinis: dirty.